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The real class war

The latest piece of Marie Antoinettery comes from the multi-millionaire Chairman of Nat West – the bank at the heart of the political de-banking scandal.  In an interview with the BBC’s Today Programme, Sir Howard Davies was asked about current obstacles to buying a house, to which he replied:

“Well, I don’t think it’s that difficult at the moment.  You have to save, and that’s the way it always used to be.”

Even the folks at Pravda seem to have been taken aback by Davies’ comments, citing other economics and banking luminaries who referred to Davies’ utterance as:

“Astounding.”

“Ludicrous.”

“Out of touch with reality.”

Certainly, those closer to the realities of life in contemporary Britain understand that putting together a £30,000 deposit might be a tad difficult when the median real wage has fallen, rent is rising, and the price of essentials like food and energy is inflating as fast at the start of 2024 as it was at the start of 2023.  At the beginning of the century, the average 25-year-old was part of a couple raising children in their own home.  In 2024, the average 25-year-old is living in their parent’s spare room.  Over the same period, the age of the average first-time-buyer has risen to 32 (which, incidentally, is a key reason why Britain’s birth rate has plummeted).

Importantly, the “average” is skewed by the minority from within the Versailles-on-Thames class whose parents have the financial muscle to underwrite the first-time purchase.  A large part of the minority in the working and precariat classes who become homeowners only do so in their 50s, when they inherit the family home.  For growing numbers though, renting is the only option (despite the irony that monthly rents are higher than monthly mortgage repayments) because of the class-delineated way in which access to credit operates.

Given these systemic issues, it may well be that the backlash against Davies – including by Pravda itself – might be more to do with his “let them eat cake” pronouncement throwing light on just how out-of-touch Britain’s self-replicating ruling class has become.  Indeed, it is no more than a banking and finance version of David Cameron’s belief that the expansion of foodbanks is a good thing, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s claim that ending up in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway in the depths of winter is a “lifestyle choice,” or Chancellor Hunt’s recent claim that housebound disabled people are just workshy.

The bigger sociological problem arising out of Davies’ comments though, is they are evidence that we have now come full circle back to the conditions of the Great Depression – most of the gains made by the lower classes in the aftermath of the Second World War having been reversed.  Indeed, the class gulf revealed by Davies is reminiscent of the sociological shock experienced in the UK in the early years of the war.  The evacuation of children from the industrial cities to middle class homes in the leafy suburbs proved traumatic to both:

“At the outbreak of war in September 1939 1.25 million children and mothers were evacuated from urban areas over a period of three days…  The experience of evacuation often proved traumatic for both the children and their hosts.  There were many reports of country people being shocked by the state of the children; many had head lice for example… There were also reports of children who did not know how to use a knife and fork and whose preferred diet was chips…  There was little understanding in 1939 of the links between bedwetting and stress, and many homes had bedding ruined for which there was no compensation.”

In Angus Calder’s optimistic history of the home front during the war – The People’s War – it was this social collision which finally prompted government – encouraged by social reformers within the upper class – to begin the process of reform which ultimately led to the social reforms of the post-war Labour government.  Calder’s critic Clive Ponting, however, argued that The People’s War painted too rosy a picture of events on the home front.  Insofar as there was a drive for reform in government, it was driven more by the realisation that victory required the cooperation of all classes than by any benevolence on the part of the elites.  Far from being truly radical, the post-1945 Labour reforms were little more than an extension of the Liberal reforms prior to the First World War… the minimum required to maintain peace between the classes.  Indeed, Calder was to offer his own critique of The People’s War in The Myth of The Blitz, which accepted some of Ponting’s criticisms and explained why, even in our darkest hour, class divisions remained.

This time around there will be no total war to rally the classes together even to the extent that it happened between 1939 and 1945.  Major war between the nuclear powers will simply annihilate all classes, while proxy wars such as those raging in Ukraine and Israel merely further impoverish the poor while enriching the elites.  Revolt in one form or another is likely.  Although, as I argue in The Death Cult, almost all protest in the neoliberal era has turned out to be impotent – corporate capitalism and the elites which gain from it carrying on unhindered.  Nor – because value (profit) is derived from energy not labour – is some version of a proletarian revolution likely.  Rather, the most likely resolution of the current class divide will result from the collapse of the nominal wealth – in reality no more than a claim on a future prosperity which cannot exist – of the elites once the collective prosperity of the working and precariat classes falls below the critical mass required to maintain a consumer economy… a crisis of under-consumption followed by the unravelling of the global banking and financial system, leading to a much simplified economy based around the production of bare essentials.

Along the way, we will no doubt be treated to more victim blaming of the kind espoused by Howard Davies.  And no doubt it will be met with a similar “Shush!” from those within the elite who fear that someday soon the unwashed masses will pick up the pitchforks and blazing torches and come for them.  But the real slave revolt which is coming for them is a “revolt of the energy slaves,” in which the lights and the heating goes off and the global transportation networks grind to a halt.

As you made it to the end…

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